The ability to write well is the cornerstone of one’s legal studies. Being able to express yourself coherently and eloquently whilst analysing a complex point of law is not an easy task but, it can nonetheless be mastered when the right technique is adopted. A logical and well-supported essay is pivotal in order to attain good marks. Indubitably, the French méthodologie en deux parties is a stark contrast to what the English have in mind when writing a legal essay. The essay in the latter case is assessed on comprehension, critical analysis, structure and presentation. The extent to which each of these components is attained will denote the mark boundary the essay will fall in.
What is expected of you?
Planning the essay:
An essay without a plan is bound to lead to low marks. It is axiomatic to formulate a plan on paper. The reason for this is to first understand what the essay question requires you to do. Breaking the question apart and planning your argument will lead to a more solid approach. The plan could take the form of a mind-map or bullet points in order to facilitate the thought process. When planning the essay it is imperative to look at sources such as Acts of Parliament, Law Reports, journal articles and books. For an adequate analysis, in-depth reading is thus a prerequisite.
Writing the essay:
It is goes without saying that no informal language should be used; instead, technical terminology must be adopted at all times. However, be careful not to use any words you are not too familiar with as this may have the opposite effect. Sometimes simple and clear is best! Every sentence in the essay needs to be relevant and coherent in order to reflect a cohesive and well-represented argument. Each paragraph should lead on to the next and form clear logical steps. It may sometimes be easier to use subheadings to separate large themes or topics in your essay. The paragraphs should be lead by an argument and thus reflect the classic tripartite structure: Introduction, Main Body and Conclusion. A good introduction is fundamental since it will engage the reader and provide them with a brief insight of what the main body of the essay (the bulk of the essay) comprises of. Unlike in France where the conclusion is nonexistent, in England it is a very important element of the essay. Some find it easier to begin by writing the conclusion since it sets a clear response to the question. Furthermore, you must not keep your conclusion for the end in an attempt to surprise the reader; paradoxically, your conclusion must be stated in the beginning. Your essay must be therefore summed up in the introduction. You should be able to read the introduction and immediately know your line of argument; the introduction needs to be a roadmap of the essay. Whilst this may seem like a Herculean task it is nonetheless easier to achieve than it may seem.
When writing the essay, in order to perfect it, one must draft, redraft and redraft again.
Citations in the essay:
Referencing your essays correctly is vital. If you do not cite sources properly then this may be regarded as plagiarism. You must not plagiarise! Law Schools take this matter very seriously since plagiarism is considered to be cheating. All assessed work is checked electronically against sources on the internet including “subscription” based sites which promise to write your essays for you! Referencing is not troublesome when following the Oxford Standard Citation of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA). This permits you to ensure that everything is cited properly and formatted correctly. OSCOLA is also very helpful with regards to preparing the bibliography. You must continually update the bibliography and not neglect it.
In conclusion, it is evident that the more essays you write and the more feedback you will receive, you will consequently feel more comfortable in your writing skills. However, always remember, as Voltaire says: « Rien ne se fait sans un peu d’enthousiasme»!
-Finch & Fafinski, Legal Skills, 4e
-Oxford Standard Citation of Legal Authorities (Fourth Edition) <http://www.law.ox.ac.uk/published/OSCOLA_4th_edn.pdf>